Tag Archives: libraries

BookLinks January 2021

The latest edition of BookLinks, our newsletter for people and organisations working to encourage reading, is now available!

Read the latest edition of BookLinks here.

This edition features:

  • News from our partners who have been working in creative ways to keep children engaged with reading and learning through the pandemic.
  • A review of how Covid-19 has affected library services, partner organisations and individuals all over the world.
  • A brief overview of how the services we provide at Book Aid International have adapted in 2020 and beyond.

We hope you enjoy it!



Education in Africa: Back to the classroom

While students across the UK returned to school this autumn, we took a look at how back-to-school initiatives are progressing in Africa.

Even before the global pandemic hit, only 17.8% of households in Africa had internet access at home, so the option of home learning was limited. This is one of the reasons why news of back to school plans have been so warmly welcomed.

Kenya’s Education Minister officially stated that schools in Kenya were to reopen on the 12th of October for selected year groups. All students are expected to adhere to the mandatory use of facemasks and monitoring of body temperatures, and where there is no running water, schools will use hand sanitiser. In addition, a section of universities and colleges reopened on 5th October as part of a slow return to higher education. 


Students before lockdown at a school library in Kakuma, Kenya

Although physical distancing remains a challenge, the Kenyan Minister said that this shouldn’t be used as an excuse to keep any child away from school. 

It’s good news from Gambia too. The Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education has declared the opening of secondary schools in the Gambia from the 14th of October, again to selected year groups. Students at primary level and in nursery have also been asked to return to school on the 28th of October, 2020.

Image of a school in Zambia, before COVID-19

In Zambia, the President acknowledged the negative effects closing of schools had on students, acknowledging that the introduction of virtual learning platforms only benefited a few pupils while many were left out. Therefore, under strict health measures, schools resumed school learning from July.

Despite a lot of positivity, across this region nearly 65 million children remain out of school, and around one in two of those are not reached by any form of learning. It’s for this reason that it’s more important than ever we continue to find ways to help children in the most disadvantaged communities gain access to books. 


Five reasons why we love Libraries

From Pioneer Book Boxes to Voyager Container and community Libraries, if there’s one thing for sure at Book Aid International, it’s that we love libraries. 

We work with public, community and prison libraries to ensure the books we provide are available to all,  we also work to increase the support available to people as they begin to read, by training librarians and teachers. So to celebrate Libraries Week, we’re shining a light on a few of the reasons why we’re so passionate about libraries.

1. For Their Brilliant Librarians!

For Wilson and other staff like him across the world, having library-run training sessions has taught him how to be confident and comfortable running a library.

Before, we were just doing basic things in the library. But now I understand how to deal with the children and teach them with the books.

– Wilson, Kenya

In areas where parents struggle even to put food on the table, learning to read books at home is simply not possible. That’s why having engaged, dedicated librarians in community libraries can be life-changing for children. Plus, they can always locate that one book you can’t find!

Wilson reading
Wilson and his colleagues are now confident in working with children

2. Learning New Skills

Books are not just entertaining or informative, they are also vital in teaching new skills and knowledge.

Books have the power to change my future, because the more I read, the more I learn, the more I can become someone.

– Mary, Ghana

3. Meeting Others

Libraries are the perfect place to gather and share a love of books. Our Voyager Container Library model allows even the most rural of homes to have access to up to date books, bringing people from the local community together to share knowledge, make friendships and read.

 It’s all covered so that when it rains, people are sheltered. It’s a reading environment that’s really attractive. When we come here on the weekend, it’s packed. There are so many kids!

– Elizabeth, Rwanda

The Voyager Container Library in Rwanda is very popular


4. A Safe Space to Read

In many of the countries we work in, violence, natural disaster and conflict are the norms. The ongoing conflict in Cameroon has led to communities being a target for violence with many homes and schools being burnt down, so students have had to take shelter in Cameroon’s forested area.

With the help of local NGOs and our Pioneer Book Boxes, students can have a safe space to read, a chance to continue education and have hope for the future.

Dreams should not end because there is strife and conflict. Education is every child’s basic human right and we are committed to giving it to them.

– Church Bishop, Cameroon

Students in Cameroon receiving books

5. The Volume and Choice of Books

Many children and students in the places we work have little or no books at home, so one of the reasons we love libraries is for the sheer choice of books available.

At St John of God College of Health Sciences in Malawi, we’ve sent 4,708 books to date to their Library, allowing students to take books home, rather than loaning for an hour before having to share with their peers. Having enough books and a large range gives students the best possible chance of a good education.

The value of the books we receive is priceless!

– Prisca, Malawi

We would like to thank players of People’s Postcode Lottery who funded the creation of  Rwanda’s Voyager Container Library, and the Pioneer Book Boxes for children and communities to enjoy.  


Reading in Bhutan

BookLinks May 2019

The latest edition of BookLinks, our newsletter for people and organisations working to encourage reading, is now available!

Read BookLinks here

This edition features:

  • An update from CODE Ethiopia on our Book Havens project
  • Tips on how books can be used in the classroom to bring various curriculum subjects to life including science, maths and agriculture
  • How pairing slow and fast readers can help improve reading skills.

We hope you enjoy it!



Reading in Ugandan school

Loving school libraries in Uganda


Esther, 14, in Eastern Uganda doesn’t have any books at home. She wants to become a doctor so that she can treat people in her community. Esther’s school library has helped her with her studies towards her dream as it has a lot of science books.


Ugandan school
Children enjoy books in a classroom in Uganda


Our partner Africa Educational Trust (AET) creates education programmes to support adults and children like Esther in conflict-affected areas of Africa. In Uganda, they are working with other organisations to bring recovery and prosperity in eastern and northern regions where poverty and conflict have impacted the quality and accessibility of education. Many schools there are severely under-resourced and AET is working to establish school libraries and train librarians in disadvantaged primary schools. We are proud to support their work, donating brand new books for pupils to enjoy who might not otherwise have anything to read.

Here, young readers in Uganda tell us more about their school libraries:


Discovering dinosaurs



Florence, 11, goes to her school library at least once a week to borrow a book to read at home. Fruit is her favourite book because it has good pictures and she has also learned a lot about plants from it. The books in her school library have given her the opportunity to learn about things you don’t get in Uganda like snow and dinosaurs. She wants more books to be added to the library’s collection so she can keep learning new things.


Reading Buddies


Godfrey and Yowana
Reading Buddies Yowana and Godfrey


Yowana, 11 and Godfrey, 13, joined the Reading Buddies scheme at their school in February and have been reading together twice a week ever since. Every Monday and Thursday they come to their school library at six in the morning to read for an hour before schools starts. The boys have found that by reading together, their reading is improving – they learn new words from each other and are able to help each other with pronunciation. Together, they have developed a real love of reading and they are now encouraging other friends to find reading partners of their own. Both hope to become teachers when they grow up so they can help more children discover the joy of reading.


A librarian in the making




Ten year old Rebecca doesn’t have any books at home. She enjoys reading so much that she helps out in her school library, organising the books and keeping the space clean, so that she can have access to books as much as possible. Her older sister helps her with hard words and combined with the books in her school library, Rebecca’s reading and comprehension is getting better and better.


Many thanks to AET for the opportunity to share these stories and pictures with our supporters.

Our Vision for 2020

As part of our Vision for 2020, we are committed to supporting pupils struggling to learn in under-resourced schools and people affected by conflict. Find out more using the links below.


Shelves of books

Loving libraries

Charlotte Walker, leader of the 3rd Chapel Allerton Guides in Leeds loves books and libraries. She wanted to share that love with young people in her local area and decided create her very own challenge badge to introduce Guides to their local libraries, donating all the profit from badge sales to us. We talked to Charlotte to find out more about the ‘I Love My Library’ badge.


Charlotte receiving her Queen’s Guide Award


I created the ‘I Love My Library’ badge during my Queen’s Guide Award. It is a challenging programme of excursions, outdoor adventures and community action that you can complete in Girlguiding.

Libraries were very important to me growing up. I loved all sorts of books – favourite stories, travel books, how-to guides, audio books. I would read anything! But nowadays I believe that young people today are missing out on what libraries can do for them.

Whilst Brownies have the Booklover badge, there is no dedicated badge about libraries in Girlguiding. So my Guide unit and I decided to design our own badge for Rainbows, Brownies, Guides and the Senior Section – the ‘I Love My Library’ challenge badge. The aim of the badge is to get more young people into their local libraries and benefitting from all the services they have to offer.


I Love my Library badge


My Guide unit and I designed the badge and the syllabus together. The first part of the badge focuses on activities to do in the weekly meetings at your unit. This includes a book-themed charades competition, designing your own library and Pictionary using the Dewey Decimal System.

For the second part of the badge, the Guides are taken on a visit to their local library. Here, they take part in various activities to get to know the library and its different sections and services. The visit finishes with a detective game to find clues hidden around the library.

My unit really enjoyed visiting the library and thought it was the best part of the badge. We visited outside of opening hours so we had the place to ourselves. This gave the girls free rein to get to know every part of the library. The clue hunt at the end was very exciting as they went around looking for clues and unlocking codes. Our visit was also a great opportunity for the girls to hear about some of the events coming up at the library. Many of them have visited their library again since.

We are donating all the profits from the ‘I Love My Library’ challenge badge to Book Aid International – we sold over 800 badges and raised £948! As we are lucky enough in the UK to have such easy access to books, I wanted the profits to go to a charity which gives other children around the world access to books. Book Aid International does just that!

I hope that the girls who participated in the ‘I Love My Library’ challenge badge will continue to visit their library and take their siblings and friends too!


We would like to say a big thank you to Charlotte and her Girlguiding unit for their generous support. They’ve raised enough to send over 470 books to libraries in places where the challenges to accessing books are at their greatest. We hope the ‘I Love My Library’ badge inspires a love of libraries in many Guides.


Digital workshop

Inspiring young readers through digital and printed resources

Today we have published our Learning Paper on the Children’s Books and E-Learning Pilot Project we recently ran in Kenya. The Learning Paper outlines what we found from a two year digital pilot project in Kenyan children’s libraries. You can download the full paper here and you can watch a short film that the children made themselves. 

From 2013 to 2015 we ran a pilot project in partnership with Kenya National Library Service to test out the effectiveness of tablets and e-readers in children’s libraries. The Children’s Books and E-Learning Pilot Project involved providing tablets and e-readers to five libraries in Kenya with previously established Children’s Corners. We also provided new books to these libraries to explore how digital and print content works together in children’s libraries. While our projects have always centred around the printed book, we wanted to explore how providing digital books and printed books together could potentially reach more children or encourage children to use the library more frequently.

We worked with our partner Kenya National Library Service (knls) to select five libraries which would become ‘digital sites.’ Along with a collection of brand new books we also provided tablets and e-readers as well as specialist digital training for librarians. Some of the librarians had never used a tablet or e-reader themselves so it was important to offer this training so they in turn could help their young users. We also provided brand new books to a further 18 libraries in Kenya and helped them to develop their children’s services. By doing this we not only increased the reach of the project but could compare how libraries with digital resources performed against those without.

Reports from the digital project have been very promising. All five digital sites increased their numbers of children visiting and becoming members. The tablets and e-readers created a sense of excitement in communities that had little digital access previously and children were keen to try out the new technology. Games and activities on the tablets in particular helped children who are less confident readers to engage with reading and the library environment. The outreach activities that librarians have run as a result of their training have increased the number of children visiting the libraries as well as the number of members. Schools have been encouraged to visit the libraries with their students and to run ‘tab sessions’ in which children become familiar with the new technology and explore its potential. Children are developing their reading skills alongside their digital aptitude.

This doesn’t mean that introducing digital resources in libraries comes without its challenges though! Unreliable internet connections in some libraries presented real issues, although knls did ensure internet connectivity in Isiolo library, which had previously had none. The tablets and e-readers we provide are preloaded with educational content but there are challenges around how further titles would be purchased.

One area where we expected challenges was around protecting the technology itself. We had originally planned for three digital sites to cover loss or breakage and we were delighted to be able to expand this to a further two after the first year of the project saw no damage or loss whatsoever to the e-readers and tablets. This is largely due to training of librarians and children on the security and care for the e-readers and tablets.

The project was monitored with interest as this was the first time we had provided digital resources to libraries. It’s clear that children are attracted to the technology and that new methods of encouraging children to read can be very effective. Although all the libraries involved in the project saw an increase in child members, this was more pronounced in those with tablets and e-readers. Adults in these communities are also keen to experience the technology as well and the librarians are now looking at further outreach projects to engage the wider community. For us, the most important aspect is that children are provided with an environment and the resources to establish a love of reading from an early age. Now we know the benefits that digital and print resources together can bring to a library we look forward to using this dual approach in future projects where we are able, to bring the joy of reading to as many children as possible.

You can download the full Learning Paper here to find out more about this project and you can also watch this short film made by the children themselves!

Prison book club

Book clubs changing lives in Luzira Upper Prison

Book Aid International has been proud to partner with African Prisons Project (APP) since 2009. APP works to improve access to healthcare, lifeskills, justice and leadership development opportunities for prisoners in Kenya and Uganda and we support their work by donating brand new books for use in the libraries they run in 14 prisons. 

These libraries do much more than just house books for prisoners and staff to use – they also hold various reading activities and classes. We were encouraged to hear of the difference a book club in Luzira Upper Prison, Uganda is making. Over to APP volunteer Joseph Matovu and librarian Hilder Achiro to tell us more…

Any visitor arriving at the yard in Luzira Upper Prison on any Monday morning would probably be greeted by the sight of Omar Ozelle helping to gather his fellow inmates for their weekly book club meeting. His enthusiasm for the club is infectious; he is always able to gather a large group of eager participants within a matter of minutes. Over the next two hours, in the company of APP staff, they discuss the week’s reading material with each other before helping the less advanced readers amongst them learn to read aloud more fluently.

In conversation with Mr Ozelle, the reasons for his willingness to help his colleagues to improve their reading skills quickly become clear. “When I arrived in prison, I was unable to read or write in English” he told APP staff. “I asked my cell-mate to help to compose a letter on my behalf, but he told me that it would be the first and last time he would do me that favour”. It is this man whom Mr Ozelle credits for persuading him to improve his literacy skills, first through joining school and then through participating in book club sessions. Having left school in Primary 4 when he was a child (aged 9-10), Ozelle took advantage of the academic opportunities that his sentence in Luzira afforded him and rejoined school in Primary 7. “Most of my education has taken place behind bars”, the committed student of the prison’s secondary school told us. He recognises that prison has given him the incentive and the facilities with which to pursue his education in a way that was never possible for him when he was free, and since enrolling in some of Luzira’s educational programmes he has become an integral figure in assuring that his fellow inmates are also able to make the most of their chances to become more literate and articulate. As he began leading the most recent session he took time to re-emphasise the importance of the role that the book club plays in the improvement of the communication skills, confidence and literacy of its participants.

Joseph Chekwoti is another beneficiary of the book club sessions. Like Mr Ozelle, he was unable to complete primary school as a child, only reaching Primary 7 (aged 12 – 13) before he left school. However, in prison he found the motivation to recommence his schooling. In particular, he became infatuated with reading, and he recognises that the development of this passion has had upon his communication skills. Mr Chekwoti, who admits that his English was “unrefined” when he first arrived in prison, recalled that he was “trembling” when he was invited to give his opinion about Great Expectations in his first book club session, having previously never had the opportunity to publicly share his ideas in an academic forum. As his confidence grew, so did his love of books. Mr Chekwoti told us that reading Great Expectations for the first time spurred him on to read every Charles Dickens book that was in the library. Now he reads a wide array of novels at a rate of 150 pages per day. He says “On any particular day I do not feel myself if I haven’t been reading a book”.

It is no surprise that Mr Chekwoti sees the book club as a vitally important part of the culture in Luzira Upper Prison. “Every book has a purpose” he told his fellow inmates. “Even in romance novels, there is something that we can take from them”. For him and his fellow inmates, books are far more than just a way to escape the reality of their sentence in Luzira. They are an educational resource through which one can learn about, and improve, oneself. This is the reason why book club regulars like Mr Ozelle and Mr Chekwoti have been able to attract more and more of their fellow inmates to book club sessions and why the reading culture in the prison continues to flourish.

Every year, Book Aid International supplies APP with thousands of books in a wide range of subjects for their prison libraries. From children’s and primary books to adult fiction, English language skills, higher education and law, these books give prisoners the opportunity to further their education, develop their skills and read for pleasure. We are proud to partner with APP in introducing the inmates at Luzira Upper Prison to the joy and value of reading.

A version of this article first appeared on the African Prisons Project website.


NEWS RELEASE: Book Aid International returns to Sierra Leone to support library services

Library development charity Book Aid International is returning to supporting libraries in Sierra Leone, it announced today. The charity, which ships around a million books each year to libraries in sub-Saharan Africa, has sent a shipment of 38,000 brand new, carefully selected books to Freetown to help the country rebuild after the Ebola crisis.

Book Aid International withdrew from Sierra Leone in 2007 when the ceasing of UK government funding caused the charity to reduce its number of countries of operation and focus on East Africa. Since then Book Aid International has grown its income streams and is now once again in a position to support Sierra Leonean libraries with donations of brand new books for a range of libraries. The expansion into Sierra Leone is supported in part by players of People’s Postcode Lottery, who started supporting the charity in late 2014.

The books on this first shipment will go to the Sierra Leone Library Board which runs a network of 20 public libraries as well as supporting schools, hospitals, universities and prisons as well as to local NGOs supporting education in Sierra Leone. The books range from children’s phonics books and early readers to academic texts, medical and healthcare books and adult fiction.

The Ebola crisis has had a devastating effect on life in the West African country, but was declared over in late 2015. As the country begins to rebuild, Book Aid International hopes its support can help people get back to normal life and restart their education. Libraries in the country are generally well-used but many of the book collections are outdated.

Book Aid International Director Alison Hubert said: “We are delighted to be able to support library services in Sierra Leone at such a crucial point in the country’s redevelopment. Although recent events in Sierra Leone have been devastating, we have been very encouraged by the dynamism and commitment of the Sierra Leone Library Board to help people continue in their lifelong learning even in the most challenging of circumstances. There are many great outreach projects being implemented in Sierra Leone that help people to access books and reading resources and we hope our books can play a small part in helping Sierra Leone and its people to rebuild and to fulfil their own potential.”

Sallieu Touray, Chief Librarian at Sierra Leone Library Board said: “The intervention Book Aid International is making at this critical time with a shipment of 38,000 relevant books to Sierra Leone for distribution and reading promotion activities is a great boost to the education sector.  More users, pupils,students, and educators will be exposed to books (the most important resource in education) and this will enhance teaching and learning in Sierra Leone.”

Book Aid International works in 12 African countries and the Occupied Palestinian Territories to distribute books and learning resources and to train librarians. The charity partners with local library services and communities to provide safe, engaging spaces to access books and reading. Visit www.bookaid.org for more information.



For further information, pictures or comment please contact Jessica Faulkner, Head of Communications at Book Aid International.

e: jessica.faulkner@bookaid.org

t: 020 7326 5800

About Book Aid International

Book Aid International works in partnership with libraries in Africa, providing new books, resources and training to support an environment in which reading for pleasure, study and lifelong learning can flourish. The charity’s vision is of vibrant libraries that inspire readers and empower communities.

Book Aid International works in 12 African countries and the Occupied Palestinian Territories to distribute books and learning resources and to train librarians. The charity partners with local library services and communities to provide engaging spaces to access books and reading. Visit www.bookaid.org for more information.

About People’s Postcode Lottery

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Book Aid International returns to supporting Sierra Leone

We are delighted to announce that in 2016 we will once again begin supporting Sierra Leone’s libraries with brand new, carefully selected books. Our Director Alison Tweed reports on setting up new relationships and partnerships in Sierra Leone to help the country rebuild after the impact of the Ebola crisis. 

“I guess what I’d like to say is that people in Sierra Leone …want to send their kids to school; they want to live in peace; they want to have their basic rights of life just like everyone else. I think we all owe an obligation to support people who want to do that.” Ishmael Beah (author of A long way gone: memoirs of a boy soldier)

In December 2015 and in March 2016 I made two visits to Sierra Leone, to evaluate the state of libraries and of book availability in the country and see whether Book Aid International could once again play a part in supporting  public libraries, schools and higher education institutions. We have not worked in Sierra Leone since 2007, when the UK government ceased funding the organisation, which led to a strategic decision to focus on our work in East Africa.

Sierra Leone is emerging from the recent widely-reported and devastating Ebola crisis which resulted in nearly 4,000 deaths in 2014 and 2015 and resulting major disruptions in education (schools were closed for an entire academic year), commerce and many of the traditional ways of life, and creating many thousands of orphans and out-of-school children.


Given this I was delighted, on my arrival in Freetown, to find a flourishing national library service, managed by the Sierra Leone Library Board (SLLB) with 20 branches across the country.

Many of these libraries are new and they  all have lending, reference and even basic children’s sections. Much of the collection is old but well looked-after and clearly well-used. Some have computer centres which are internet-connected, some have computers but no internet.

Membership of all the libraries outside Freetown is free and books (mainly novels) can be borrowed from the lending library. SLLB has also done much to promote the service in imaginative ways: for example, all libraries have motorbikes on which the librarians visit local schools, community groups and in some cases even housebound individual users!

However, there is still much to be done to encourage wider use of libraries, especially by children. Having a supply of well-targeted, relevant and brand-new books from Book Aid International would certainly go some way to support the work SLLB is doing and I agreed we would support the Library Board with an initial donation of around 30,000 books in 2016.

“I grew up in Sierra Leone, in a small village where as a boy my imagination was sparked by the oral tradition of storytelling. At a very young age I learned the importance of telling stories – I saw that stories are the most potent way of seeing anything we encounter in our lives, and how we can deal with living.”
Ishmael Beah (author of A long way gone: memoirs of a boy soldier)

While in Freetown I also visited the University of Sierra Leone. Fourah Bay College, one of the three faculties, was the first institution of its kind in West Africa, established in 1827 as an Anglican missionary school and educating many prominent West Africans. It is now a constituent college of the university and has over 6,000 students. Sadly the library building, with its magnificent situation overlooking the city, has suffered hugely from lack of maintenance and a persistently leaky roof. I therefore agreed with the VC, Professor Thompson, that the university texts we would donate should be housed temporarily in the central public library for the students to access until such time as the college library was renovated.

Schools in Sierra Leone have been particularly hard hit by the impact of the Ebola crisis, with most closing for an entire year to limit infection within communities. This of course has a huge effect on children’s education as well as affecting their social interactions. However a large number of NGOs are running programmes to help children back to school, support girls in their quest for an education or provide basic teaching for the most deprived communities.

One such community-based organisation, Save the Needy, is working in 10 schools in Freetown and the country’s second city, Bo, and I visited some of these schools accompanied by the founder Mrs Violet Lenger Forfanah. The schools, situated mainly in Goderich district, have few, if any, resources; children lack not only textbooks but also reading books, exercise books and even pencils. Save the Needy is reaching out to these schools and raising funds for support and we agreed to work with them to provide collections of books and reading materials for their schools programme. It was clear that a donation of brand new, bright, and appealing books would make a real difference in these classrooms.

Freetown school
One of the schools supported by Save the Needy in Freetown

What was very clear to me on my visit, aside from the irrepressible optimism of most Sierra Leoneans that the future would be better, was the vital importance of education and access to information in rebuilding the country for the long term. If we at Book Aid International can support the librarians who are working in schools, universities and public libraries to make books available to their communities we will be proud that we are able to play a small role in these steps towards a better future.

As the librarian at Makeni City Library declared proudly: ‘We are bringing the libraries to the people, all over the country!’ And so they are.